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Cherokee’s Trail of Tears continues

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By Dan Paden

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina has a long history of suffering and hardship, and adversity on their territory has not yet come to an end. The sovereign land is home to three decrepit roadside zoos, in which animals are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them. One zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park, was exposed recently after a PETA undercover investigation documented desperate bears incessantly turning in circles in cement pits, so stressed by the grotesquely inhumane conditions that some have broken their teeth while biting the metal bars of their cages in frustration.

It’s puzzling that this situation is allowed to continue, particularly since non-natives own and operate the zoos—all located on tribal land—even though the conditions clearly appear to violate tribal law. The Tribal Council has done nothing to intervene, much less put a stop to the cruelty. It’s time for these zoos to be closed.

Surrounded by four solid walls, the bears at Chief Saunooke Bear Park cannot see anything beyond their allotted space—a pitiful fraction of what bears actually need. In their natural habitat, bears are curious and energetic animals who spend their time exploring diverse terrain, foraging for a wide variety of foods and digging in soft earth, brush and leaves. The zoo’s concrete pits have no grass or dirt. They are simply holes in which bears are forced to beg for food and wait for visitors to throw it to them. One bear was shot in the head 20 times before dying, and a zookeeper admitted to eating at least one bear.

But this roadside zoo is just one of hundreds in which animals suffer and die. All over the country, animal collectors market their tawdry outfits as roadside Americana or, worse, as “rescue” facilities that give animals in trouble a safe haven. The vast majority are frauds, making money off the misery of animals and the kind hearts of people who want to help them.

Animals in roadside zoos typically are confined to chain-link or chicken-wire cages with nothing but concrete to walk, sleep and eat on. Some owners toss out an old tire or a ball to give visitors the impression that animals can use them to pass the interminable hours, but most of them have no enrichment whatsoever, not even a patch of grass.

Animals who may not get along are jammed into the same pen. Predators are housed in close proximity to prey. Babies are traumatically removed from their mothers immediately after birth to be used as photo props. The lives of these animals are turned upside down. Many pace incessantly, rock back and forth or even hurt themselves by chewing on their fingers, plucking out their feathers or grooming themselves raw.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses animal exhibitors, but the laws protecting captive animals don’t go far enough and the standards that do exist are not properly enforced. Animals must be given food, water and shelter, but cages only need to be “large” enough for an animal to be able to move around a little bit. There is no requirement for grass, shrubbery or other natural vegetation.

Since there are no restrictions on breeding animals, owners churn out babies, knowing that they’ll bring in customers. But babies grow up quickly, leaving a surplus of adult animals with less and less space and fewer resources to meet their complex needs. Exotic animals often go without veterinary care, and zoo operators would often rather depend on free roadkill or donated rotten meat than spend money on wholesome, quality food.

If you’re on a road trip and see a zoo billboard trying to entice you to pull over or if a traveling exhibitor is selling photo ops with tiger cubs at your local mall, please think about the suffering that you’ll be supporting before buying a ticket.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Cruelty on the court

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By Gemma Vaughan

With a new school year just underway, students, teachers and administrators are all ready for a fresh start. And as sure as there will be lost homework, missed school buses and overcooked cafeteria food, there will also be school fundraisers, including, in some districts, a cruel spectacle called “donkey basketball” that should have been benched long ago.

Yes, you read that correctly: Students and faculty shoot hoops from the backs of donkeys supplied by a couple of companies that rent out these personable animals like carnival equipment. Donkeys used in these fundraisers are frequently handled roughly by unruly riders who are more caught up in putting on a show for spectators than treating these gentle animals with the care that they deserve. During games, donkeys are often punched, kicked, screamed at or whipped for being “uncooperative.”

Donkeys are intelligent, gregarious and full of personality. They are very companionable and, in the wild, travel in herds with up to 100 members.

The donkeys used for basketball games are loaded and unloaded into tractor-trailers and hauled from one event to the next. They find themselves in the middle of gymnasiums surrounded by screaming kids, bullhorns and whistles. According to The Donkey Sanctuary in the U.K., an average-size donkey is not able to bear much more than 100 pounds, yet in most games, donkeys are forced to carry riders weighing 150 pounds or more.

Donkeys are specifically excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and are afforded no federal protection whatsoever. Operators of traveling shows come and go quickly, and even if local humane authorities want to take action, the donkeys and their owner will be long gone.

Stress and confusion can lead donkeys to become skittish and unpredictable. A game at a Washington high school was canceled after three donkeys fought being taken into the school and one slipped and fell. A rider in a donkey basketball game in Waterloo, Ill., was awarded more than $110,000 for injuries that he sustained, and a Wisconsin state senator fell off a donkey during a game, breaking her leg. In March of 2006, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida sued the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the owner of the Dixie Donkey Ball company, claiming she suffered injuries after being thrown off a donkey at a fundraiser.

Supporting donkey basketball sends kids the message that forcing animals to perform ridiculous stunts is acceptable if it’s for “a good cause.” Child psychologists as well as top law-enforcement officials consider cruelty to animals a red flag, and given that most schools rightfully strive to live up to a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, they should condemn all forms of gratuitous cruelty, including cruelty to animals.

With so many innovative and humane ways to raise funds, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs.

Gemma Vaughan, M.S.W., is a cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

October 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Stop the dolphin slaughter—stay away from marine-mammal parks

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By Paula Moore

Dolphins have rich social lives, brains that are as complex as our own and pod-specific cultural practices that are passed down from generation to generation. Some scientists argue that dolphins should be classified as “nonhuman persons” and that their rights should be protected. The resident dolphins of Toshima, Japan—about 100 miles south of Tokyo—are considered official citizens of the small island and are fully protected while in the island’s waters.

But elsewhere dolphins are in danger. Every year in Japan, thousands of these intelligent, self-aware animals are killed in violent hunts known as oikomi or “drive fisheries.” Others are ripped from their ocean homes to be put on display in aquariums and marine theme parks or used in “swim-with” programs. These industries are inextricably linked. If you don’t support the slaughter of dolphins, then don’t pay to see them perform in dolphin shows.

September 1 marked the official start of one of the most notorious dolphin hunts—the annual slaughter in Taiji, Japan, that was documented in the Oscar-winning film The Cove. Video footage of past hunts in this Japanese fishing village shows dolphins thrashing in their own blood for many agonizing minutes after being speared or having their throats cut. By the end of the slaughter, the entire cove is red with blood.

While most dolphins captured in Taiji end up as meat in Japanese supermarkets—despite the fact that dolphin flesh is so dangerously contaminated with mercury that some Taiji officials have likened it to “toxic waste”—every year, about two dozen live dolphins are sold to aquariums, performing-dolphin shows and swim-with programs across the globe. It’s these lucrative sales that keep the dolphin slaughter going.

A dead dolphin brings in only a few hundred dollars. But a single live dolphin can fetch $150,000 or more.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, dolphins captured during Japan’s drive fisheries have ended up in aquariums all over the world. Even countries that no longer allow the importation of dolphins caught during the gruesome slaughter may be displaying animals purchased before the ban or moved through other countries to disguise their origin.

Dolphins suffer immensely in captivity. Eight former trainers at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, recently spoke out to the Toronto Star about the substandard conditions at that facility. Among other abuses, the trainers claim that five dolphins had their skin fall off in chunks after they spent months swimming in water so green that they could barely be seen in it. Photos of the dolphins show them with their eyes squeezed shut against the filthy water. According to the trainers, some animals have gone blind at Marineland.

In the open sea, dolphins live in large, intricate social groups, swim together in family pods and can travel up to 100 miles a day. In captivity, their world is measured in gallons instead of fathoms. Dolphins communicate with each other through whistles and body language. In tanks, their vocalizations become a garble of meaningless reverberations. Most aquariums keep antacids on hand to treat the animals’ stress-related ulcers.

No animal deserves to be torn from his or her rightful home, locked up in a tank or cage and forced to perform tricks just for our amusement. But the plight of a captive dolphin swimming in endless circles in a concrete tank is especially heartbreaking. Please stand up to this cruel industry. Before you buy a ticket, remember that patronizing marine-mammal parks and swim-with programs helps to support Japan’s bloody dolphin hunts—and condemns intelligent, social beings to a lifetime of misery.

Paula Moore is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

September 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

The drug days of summer horse racing

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By Kathy Guillermo

There’s quite a buzz surrounding the possibility that I’ll Have Another will cross the finish line first in the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and become the first Triple Crown Winner since 1978. The subtext to this public discussion is a lot seedier: I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, has a long rap sheet of drugging violations.

For more than a decade, O’Neill has been in trouble over and over again for administering substances illegally to horses. Just last week, the California Horse Racing Board suspended O’Neill for 45 days in that state and fined him $15,000 for a drugging violation. Statistics show that the horses he trains suffer catastrophic injury at twice the rate of the national average—an indication that somehow (anti-inflammatory drugs? Painkillers? Muscle relaxants?) horses are raced when fatigue and injury should dictate rest and recuperation.

To those of us not involved in thoroughbred racing, the questions are obvious: How is it that this man can still be training horses? How can it be that someone who wouldn’t even be allowed to unload a horse van on a track in one state is garnering accolades as he prepares to run a horse in another? And why has the racing industry embraced him and not kicked him out on his chemical-laden can?

So here’s a message to the racing industry: Stop blaming your bad image on the animal protection organizations that work to improve living, racing and retirement conditions for thoroughbreds. Quit your griping and clean up your act.

Thoroughbred racing needs a zero-tolerance policy. This means much more than a multiyear debate about whether or not furosemide, also known as Lasix or Salix, should be allowed on the day that a horse races. The discussion about this drug, which purports to prevent bleeding in the lungs during exertion, is the racing industry’s delaying tactic: If they focus on this one medication, they won’t have to talk about the 25 or 30 injections of drugs that are often given to horses in the week before a race.

“Zero-tolerance” means that repeat offenders need to find a new career.

The misuse of legal drugs to keep unfit horses racing is what is killing racing—and thoroughbreds—in America. Everyone from the groom to the top trainer knows it, but few are willing to admit it, with notable exceptions. At a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission hearing on race-day medications at which I testified last fall, famed thoroughbred owner Arthur Hancock commented: “Therapeutic drugs are given to a horse who is ailing or recovering. Is every horse in every race ill or injured?”

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens recently testified before Congress on the use of drugs to keep horses running: “Horses need down time. … Horses need time off to heal naturally. … [A] lot of good horses would still be running today, if medications weren’t used in the way they are. Would you inject your son or daughter so they could run in a track meet? I don’t think so. You would let them heal and miss a race or two until they could come back and not damage themselves more. So why would we do it to horses?”

Because there’s no federal oversight of horse racing, the Jockey Club, too, is trying to deal with the deadly proliferation of drugs. They’ve proposed sensible rules and penalties that could get the worst of the offenders out of racing altogether. But they need every one of the racing boards in 38 separate states to buy into the plan.

It’s clear that these racing heavy-hitters can’t stop the excessive drugging by themselves. The entire racing industry needs to embrace reform instead of syringes. Every trainer could start by firing the veterinarians whose answer to an ache is a regimen of drugs instead of rest. Every thoroughbred owner should fire or not hire trainers with violations. This would mean a good many track vets and trainers would be filing for unemployment. But it might also mean the beginning of clean racing—and this means fewer injuries and deaths on the racetrack.

Until this happens, don’t go to a race and don’t bet on one. If the racing industry won’t do the right thing for the right reasons, let’s make sure their already plummeting profits fall through the floor. Maybe then they’ll quit doping the horses.

Kathy Guillermo is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 6, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Zoos: Don’t ‘get the party started’

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By Jennifer O’Connor

What do blaring techno-pop, psychotropic drugs and zoos have in common? The answer, of course, should be “nothing,” but in an effort to keep revenue flowing in, zoos and aquariums around the world are welcoming events ranging from raves to weddings at their facilities—at a high cost to the resident animals. It’s bad enough that animals are confined to these facilities in the first place. They shouldn’t also be reduced to party props.

Recently released toxicology reports suggest that two dolphins at a Swiss zoo died after ingesting a heroin substitute shortly after a weekend-long rave was held near their tank.

Reports speculate that the drug had been dumped into the tank during the rave “accidentally” or as a practical joke, but Shadow and Chelmers died slowly and in agony. Chelmers’ keeper described his last hour: “He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth. Eventually we got him out of the water. His tongue was hanging out. He could hardly breathe.”

Zoos are marketing their facilities for birthday parties, corporate receptions and nighttime “safaris,” even though the commotion and noise can leave animals anxious and unsettled. Three guides at a rave at the Georgia Aquarium admitted that music at such parties upsets the animals and causes them to fight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that inspects zoos, has acknowledged that allowing nighttime visitors can agitate primates. At the San Diego Zoo, an inspector asked zoo officials to reevaluate nighttime display of the gelada baboons, as they appeared to be stressed out.

Aren’t zoos and aquariums supposed to be focusing on the comfort and well-being of the animals? It seems we haven’t progressed much in the years since a former zoo director admitted, in a 1984 article, that the animals are “the last thing I worry about with all the other problems.”

By their very nature, zoos leave animals vulnerable to the whims and wishes of zookeepers and visitors. Animals in zoos have been poisoned, left to starve, deprived of veterinary care and burned alive in fires. They’ve been beaten, shot, pelted with rocks and stolen by people who were able to gain access to the cages. Many have died after eating coins and trash tossed into their cages. A giraffe who recently died in an Indonesian zoo was found to have a wad of 44 pounds of plastic in his stomach made up of food wrappers thrown into his cage by visitors.

It’s no wonder that zoos are increasingly desperate to attract visitors: Parents who still take their children to the zoo are becoming as rare as the dodo bird. Most people are starting to agree that sentencing animals to life behind bars is ethically indefensible, and in response many zoos are adding trains, sky rides, carousels and water attractions to entice visitors to come through the gates.

Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom are “educated” about threatened wildlife on a thrill ride once called “Countdown to Extinction.” And let’s not forget coyly named fundraisers such as “Woo at the Zoo” and “Jungle Love,” at which visitors pay to watch animals have sex. Accompanied by candles and Barry White tunes, tourists sip and sup while awaiting “action.” How does this foster even a scintilla of respect for animals?

Zoo events may be a novelty for visitors, but for the imprisoned animals, it means that their already-limited period of peace and quiet has been stolen from them. Parties and picnics belong in the park or in backyards, not outside the bars of a caged animal who can’t decline to attend.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

 

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Racing to the death

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By Paula Moore

Imagine if someone invaded your home, tore you away from your family, drove you hundreds of miles away and then let you go. You don’t know where you are, and you’re desperate to get back home. You’re surrounded by hundreds of strangers, all as confused as you are. You’re scared and hungry and must fight to stay alive through all weather extremes. Some of the others succumb to exhaustion or starvation. Some are killed by hunters or predators. It may sound like a plot twist from The Hunger Games, but it’s real.

This is the fate of birds who are forced to fly for their lives in the abusive and often illegal pastime known as pigeon racing. That the victims of this cruel sport are animals and not humans should not make their suffering any less appalling.

PETA recently completed a 15-month undercover investigation into some of the largest pigeon-racing operations in the U.S. PETA’s investigators documented massive casualties of birds during races and training, rampant “culling” (killing), abusive training and racing methods and illegal interstate gambling.

In many of the races—which can be up to 600 miles long—more than 60 percent of the birds become lost or die along the way. Because these birds were raised in captivity and cannot fend for themselves in the wild, those who don’t make it home will likely starve to death. Pigeon racers even have a name for races that are particularly lethal: “smash races.”

During one race in Queens, for example, only four out of 213 birds ever returned. Out of nearly 2,300 baby birds shipped to the Phoenix area for training for the 2011 American Racing Pigeon Union Convention Race, only 827 survived to race day. Of those, only 487 birds had completed the 325-mile race by nightfall.

Pigeons are among the most maligned urban wildlife, yet they are complex and fascinating birds. Their hearing and vision are both excellent and have been used to save lives in wartime and to help find sailors lost at sea.

A study released in December showed that pigeons can learn abstract numerical rules—something that until recently, we thought only humans and other primates could do.

They are also loyal mates and doting parents. Both parents share in the care and nurturing of their hatchlings. Pigeon racers exploit these qualities by separating birds from their mates and babies so that they will race their hearts out, frantic to get home. After the racing season is over, the babies—no longer of any use to the racers—are often killed.

One racer told PETA’s investigators that the “first thing you have to learn” in pigeon racing is “how to kill pigeons.” Another recommended killing these gentle birds by drowning them, pulling their heads off or squeezing their breasts so tightly that they suffocate. Any bird who isn’t considered fast enough or isn’t wanted for breeding is killed.

Like other forms of animal exploitation, pigeon racing is driven by money. PETA penetrated racing organizations in which a quarter of a million dollars is bet on a single race. Pigeon racing generates an estimated $15 million a year in illegal gambling proceeds and involves felony gambling, racketeering and tax evasion. Not surprisingly, the high stakes lead to cheating. Some racers administer performance-enhancing drugs—including steroids and morphine—to their birds. One racer even admitted that he kills hawks—federally protected birds—because they prey upon his pigeons and then disposes of their bodies.

Pigeons are rock doves, a symbol of peace, and they deserve to be left in peace. PETA is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate and prosecute unlawful pigeon-racing operations. The rest of us should shun this cruel sport. Animals should not have to pay with their lives for someone’s sick idea of entertainment.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.peta.org/.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm

The Iditarod: 1,150 miserable miles

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Right now, if you’re reading this in the comfort of your armchair or a cozy kitchen nook, please give a moment’s thought to the dogs who are running through blinding snowstorms, subzero temperatures and howling winds in Alaska’s Iditarod. Some will likely not survive. The Iditarod is a life-and-death contest—but only for the four-legged participants.

Dogs routinely pay with their lives in this race. Since no records were kept in the early days of this event, it’s impossible to know the exact death toll, but more than 140 dogs are recorded as having perished. That’s not including the countless dogs who are killed when breeders decide that they aren’t fast enough.

The Iditarod’s 1,150-mile course means that dogs run more than 100 miles a day for almost two weeks straight. Their feet become bruised, bloodied, cut by ice and just plain worn out because of the vast distances they cover. Many dogs pull muscles, incur stress fractures or become sick with diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses or bleeding stomach ulcers. Dogs have frozen to death and died from inhaling their own vomit. Sled dog myopathy—being run to death—has claimed many lives.

“Overdriving” or “overworking” an animal is considered a violation of cruelty-to-animals laws in most states—but not in Alaska. There are no race regulations that prohibit whipping a dog, and The Speed Mushing Manual recommends whipping as an effective way to get dogs to run faster.

Mushers ride, eat and sleep (and until it was banned, chilled out smoking pot) while the dogs pull and pull and pull. The official Iditarod rules require that the dogs be given a total of only 40 hours of rest—even though the race can take up to two weeks. Rule 42 of the official Iditarod guidelines states that some deaths may be considered “unpreventable.” According to the rule’s offensive euphemism, dogs don’t “die”—they “expire.”

Dogs love to run, but even the most high-energy dog wouldn’t choose to run 100 miles day after day. Iditarod organizers downplay the dogs’ suffering and work to hide abuse from the public. Even when mushers are caught beating dogs, as musher Ramy Brooks was in 2007, they barely receive a slap on the wrist. One of Brooks’ dogs later died, but rather than banning this bully for life, the Iditarod committee allowed Brooks to race again.

Life for dogs off the trail is equally grim. Most kennels keep dozens of dogs who live on short chains, with only overturned barrels or dilapidated doghouses for shelter. Their world is a 6-foot diameter of mud, ice, feces and urine. Slow runners are discarded like defective equipment. There have been many cases in which chained dogs have been abandoned and left to starve to death. Others have been shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death.

Iditarod mushers brag about their “accomplishment,” but there’s no glory when someone else does all the work. And there’s no honor in running dogs to death.

Jennifer O’Connor is an animals-in-entertainment campaign writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

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